Brand Storytelling: Then and Now

Posted by Sarah Clark on September 1, 2015


Effective advertising has always been dependent on connecting with potential consumers. While many brands offer products and services that are quite similar to those their competitors offer, it’s the story behind them that keeps them in the minds of the public. A compelling story has the power and emotion to start the conversation around a brand and fuel enough curiosity to get people to choose it over another — even if it’s sometimes more expensive.

But like most other things, advertising has changed over the years. Consumers are now so disenchanted with certain advertising that they tune out a lot of the marketing noise. But by tapping back into the true power of storytelling, you can connect with your audience in an authentic way.

The Evolution of Brand Storytelling

Before 1910, electronic communication was nonexistent. Companies had to make their cases either in newspapers or on actual product packaging. But soon after, electronics and technology replaced the word-of-mouth marketing many companies relied on.

It started with the telephone and progressively moved into radio product placement and, finally, television advertisements. Television advertising was much more generic, as it tried to appeal to the masses. Since the number of TV programs was limited and everyone was watching the same thing, targeting wasn’t as necessary. But soon enough, different channels began targeting different demographics, and as a result, brands could tell different stories to different people.

When the Internet arrived, most people barely knew what to do with it, much less how to use it to advertise. They started with what they knew: Web pages were treated like electronic versions of newspapers and magazines. Most ads were pop-ups or banners that bombarded users as they perused the web. And as a result, the story was lost.

Telling a Story in the New Media

Over the past few decades, however, advertising has evolved yet again. Marketers have learned to respond to the Internet in a more interactive way, just like its users. Branding means more than coming up with a cute catchphrase and a nifty logo. Consumers want a sense that they’re connecting with something made by someone real, even if that “someone” is a large corporation.

The stories your brand might tell can be about your origins, a cause you’re passionate about, or a particular plight you overcame — whatever your brand wants to tell. But above all, the branding itself shouldn’t be prominent. In fact, it is often better when it isn’t. It’s more about the stories behind the branding; that’s what people believe. People read stories for their entertainment and informational value, and they’ll seek out brands that have the power to bring them even more information.

It’s why people feel so connected to brands like Chipotle. The company isn’t afraid to take a stand against unethical farming practices — it even launched a short film to start a conversation around it.

Chipotle’s story also worked because it utilized elements of fiction writing: strong characters, a logical plot, and an element of curiosity. Above all, it was something that was relevant to the audience and authentic to Chipotle’s brand. When you apply these components to your own story, it will become shareable. And when your target audience’s interest is strong enough, sharing no longer means calling one friend at a time. A single click forwards the message to possibly millions of people; Chipotle’s video garnered a staggering 14.5 million views.

I will never forget a story from a reporter in California who visited a local store when I worked in corporate communications for Walmart. While working on a story about the impact of Walmart, the reporter asked a random customer why she shopped there. The shopper promptly replied that it was because she could afford to buy her daughter a pair of shoes that would look as good any other child’s shoes when attending church on Easter Sunday. What better way to share a story to reflect Walmart’s “Save Money. Live Better” branding. It was a real person telling a real story of how the retailer impacted her life.

At Mitchell Communications Group, our purpose is to help companies tell their brand story and bring a true identity to the brand, rather that just placing a name on a box. Whether you’re promoting a specific product, unveiling your brand personality to the world, or running damage control after some less-than-favorable publicity, telling an authentic, engaging story will help you achieve your brand goals.

Sarah Clark is the president of Mitchell Communications Group, an award-winning public relations firm that creates real conversations between people, businesses, and brands through strategic insights, customized conversations, and consumer engagement. The agency is headquartered in Fayetteville, Arkansas, with offices in Chicago and New York City. Mitchell is part of the Dentsu Aegis Network and has more than 300 offices in 110 countries. Clark is one of the top strategic communications professionals in the country, with more than 25 years of experience in corporate communications and an exceptional track record in protecting corporate reputations and redefining perceptions in key areas of business.

Topics: Marketing